I’m a little late to the game, but I’ve finally read the second installment in the Veronica Mars mystery series. It was released on January 20 with the Kindle eBook available a few weeks earlier. I’d been so busy that I didn’t even remember it was due on shelves until my beau bought it for me for Valentine’s Day. With my beloved book in hand, I devoured the book in about eight hours total spread over just two or three sittings.
Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell picks up after the events of the film and the first book, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. Having caught Bonnie Deville’s killer and solved the widely-publicized Dewalt-Scott case, Veronica Mars is being hailed in the press—even by Vanity Fair—as a hero and a very competent private investigator. Meanwhile, Eli “Weevil” Navarro’s case is due for a verdict; after being wrongfully accused of attacking Celeste Kane, who shot Weevil in the shoulder at point-blank range when he startled her by offering her assistance, then having a stolen Glock planted on him by the police, Cliff McCormick—the finest public defender that the Neptune tax dollar can buy—has finally, if just barely, exonerated Weevil. In the seedy town of Neptune with its corrupt law enforcement and political control sold to the highest bidder, it’s a rare event for targets of the Neptune Sheriff’s Department to win their cases and walk free, which means this is cause for celebration.
Back at Mars Investigations headquarters, the gang is midway through a bottle of mid-grade scotch when insurance claims adjuster Joe Hickman working for the Neptune Grand interrupts the festivities. Referred to Veronica by ex-model owner of the Neptune’s finest hotel Petra Landros, Hickman wants Veronica to investigate the allegations of a girl who was found raped and beaten, left for dead in a field on the outskirts of town. The victim was a guest of the Neptune Grand and alleges that an employee of the Grand was her attacker, raping and beating her in her room before smuggling her out of the hotel unseen by any of the security cameras. Hickman wants Veronica to determine whether the Neptune Grand is or isn’t, in fact, liable for the victim’s attack.
As Veronica begins to sift through the case files, Keith, Cliff, and Weevil have decided to sue the Neptune Sheriff’s Department for planting the stolen gun on Weevil, citing a list of others — all of whom are from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks — who claim to have also had evidence planted on them by dirty cops. Although he has no memory of the car accident that put him in the hospital and killed Deputy Jerry Sacks, Keith knows Sheriff Dan Lamb wouldn’t hesitate to finish the job he started by having Keith eliminated for good. After all, this lawsuit will smear Lamb’s name and threaten his chances for re-election despite being on the payroll and under the thumb of Neptune’s high-and-mighty, or the best case scenario is having Lamb removed from office if Weevil wins the case. Either way, it’s high time that Neptune’s so-called protectors answer for all their misdeeds.
Watching the security footage the night of the attack, Veronica sees that she’s got her work cut out for her. The victim enters the hotel, takes the elevator to the rooftop bar and sits there for a few hours. When the victim goes to leave, she enters the stairwell, then disappears. She doesn’t appear on any footage leaving the hotel, totally vanishing for all intents and purposes until she’s found near death in the field on the edge of town. How does a victim disappear in a stairwell, then reappear fifteen miles away several hours later without leaving any evidence as to where she was in the interim?
The case is further complicated when Veronica realizes that the victim is actually someone she knows personally: Grace Manning, the youngest sister of Meg Manning who Veronica found locked in a secret closet in the Manning house, a victim of child abuse at the hand of her bible-thumping parents. And worse than Veronica’s recognizing Grace is Grace’s recognizing Veronica, believing Veronica to be at least partly responsible for the years of abuse she had to endure. Further complicated matters is the fact that the man Grace alleges to have attacked her was an illegal immigrant who was deported, which makes tracking him down unlikely at best. With so little to go on, Veronica isn’t sure whether she’ll ever be able to find out what really happened to Grace that night, but one thing is certain: If the man who was deported isn’t Grace’s attacker, than the culprit is still at large.
My initial to response to Mr. Kiss and Tell, as it would be to any Veronica Mars book or film, was utter excitement. Being so completely in love with these characters, I relish any opportunity to spend more time with them. I thoroughly enjoyed The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, especially the climactic ending, so I had very high hopes for this one as well.
Interestingly, I feel like this second book in the Veronica Mars series fixed the couple little nitpicks I had with the first book — Veronica not sounding like herself, misuse of Mac and Wallace and Logan, Veronica doing uncharacteristic things — but also lacked some of the things that I always loved about the show, the movie, and even the first book, things like the action, the suspense, the fast-paced, high-stakes climactic ending.
I found Mr. Kiss and Tell to feel more true to the series, but it definitely had much less action. There were some “Aha!” moments and exciting revelations, but overall it lacked the urgency, the risk, and the high stakes of the first book. Specifically, the ending wasn’t nearly as edge-of-your-seat as the first book. In fact, it was unexpectedly mellow and tame, with Veronica being safely removed from the scene and monitoring the “final showdown” — an intense conversation and some implied manhandling — between a bouncer-type guy and the book’s villain on security cameras. While the resolution was satisfying on paper, the means of achieving that resolution left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled compared to, say, Veronica being tied up and almost murdered by her step-sister in the previous book or getting chased down and nearly shot by Cobb in the movie.
I think what will end up being one of the most controversial components of this installment in the book series will be Weevil’s character. Over the course of the show, it seemed that although they have different approaches and came from different backgrounds, Weevil and Veronica were parallel characters; they were both, to an extent and in their own individual way, crusaders for the cause. Of course, “the cause” would be different for each of them, but essentially they both were always trying to do what was right, even if the means of doing what’s right meant some moral gray area.
However, it seems like this book was meant to remind us of the difference between Veronica and Weevil after so many years of portraying them as being so similar. Veronica is a champion for good, a crusader for the underdog, a Robin Hood-esque heroine. Weevil is similarly righteous, but he’s not as concerned about the underdog; Weevil is only a champion so far as his own cause is concerned. When it comes to sticking out your neck for other people simply because it’s the right thing to do — sacrifice and virtue — Weevil backs down. This is a huge and very important difference between the two characters. A lot of people are going to lose some respect for Weevil in this book. Personally, I was appalled by the decisions he makes in Mr. Kiss and Tell, but as I thought more about it, I understood why he did it and it actually became less surprising despite being so very disappointing. They might be on the same side, but Veronica and Weevil are not fighting the same fight.
According to reviews, Mr. Kiss and Tell ranks more or less alongside The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, which I’d say is about right. Like I said, it fixes some of the issues I had with the first book, specifically with the authenticity of the characters, but I feel like the quality of the story wasn’t quite as good as the first book. I wouldn’t give Mr. Kiss and Tell all 5 stars because I feel the story lacked urgency. Out of ten stars, I’d say the second installment in the Veronica Mars mystery series gets a solid 8.5 stars out of 10. It was certainly enjoyable and I’m generally pleased with the outcome, but I hope that the third book is more on par with The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line in terms of plot and has the authenticity of Mr. Kiss and Tell.